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Sangkaya
Coconut ice cream at Sangkaya

Johor Bahru: Ultimate Guide

Singapore not interesting enough for you? Hop across the border to Malaysia and discover what Johor Bahru has to offer

By Time Out Singapore editors
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Hongkongers love to claim that Singapore just isn’t as exciting as our very own SAR. Well, if you think you’ve been there, seen it, done it in the Lion City why take a trip to Johor Bahru, just the other side of Singapore’s border with Malaysia? This weekend destination is a favourite among many Singaporeans thanks to the attractive exchange rate but there’s also plenty to see and feast on in heritage-rich JB. Here’s what not to miss. By Darinee Durai, Nicole-Marie Ng and Ng Su Ann

Things to do in Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru

Explore Johor Bahru’s heritage buildings

JB, like neighbouring Singapore, is a melting pot of different cultures and religions. Find out more about this diversity by strolling along the Johor Bahru Heritage Walk and popping into the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque, Sri Raja Mariamman Temple, Sikh Gurwara Sahib and the Johor Bahru Old Chinese Temple along the way. Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple (Jalan Tun Abdul Razak 1/1, Wadi Hana, 80300) is one of the top attractions in Johor Bahru. It's the only glass Hindu temple in the world with 500,000 pieces of coloured glass lining its walls and ceilings. In contrast to the modernity of the glass temple, there's the Old Chinese Temple (Lot 653, Jalan Trus, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000) that was built in 1862. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Johor and you can find old paintings on the doors and walls depicting stories of its past.

Austin Heights

Make a splash at Austin Heights

Now, if the kids (or you) would rather splash around and have fun, Austin Heights Water & Adventure Park (71, Jalan Austin Heights 8/1, Taman Mount Austin, 81100) has tons to offer. The entrance is flanked by the Adventure Rope Course which features 51 different challenges. Venture deeper into the establishment, and you’ll find multiple water slides and pools where you can bask under the sun. If you’d rather not get wet, head over to the Indoor Trampoline Centre and bounce your way to fitness or let your need for speed out at the Drift Kart course up front.

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Johor Bahru

Immerse yourself in JB’s Chinese past

Back in the day, Johor was a predominantly Chinese state. Housed in a four-story building, the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum (42, Jalan Ibrahim, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000; $11/adult, $6/child) is packed with various artefacts and documentation on display, old coins and notes, music instruments, photos, porcelain and more paraphernalia that'll teach you about the Chinese population living here in the past. Read up on how the local Chinese planted pepper and gambier and the differences it made to the Malaysian economy.

Johor Zoo

Run wild at Johor Zoo

Even if you've visited Singapore Zoo on your trip, the Johor Zoo (Jalan Gertak Merah, Taman Istana, 80000) is still worth checking out. Entry costs just $4 for adults to see a range of animals like tigers, tapirs, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, camels, reptiles and birds. After you’re done here – it should take about half-an-hour to cover the grounds – you can hop on over to the next destination.

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Johor Bahru fruit picking

Pick fruits straight from the tree

An hour’s drive away from Woodlands Checkpoint is a 180-acre farm. Sure, it’s not within the city, but if you’ve never experienced the thrill of standing under a durian tree during durian season, it’s worth the trip. As long as no one gets hurt. Desaru Fruit Farm (Sungai Cemaran, Desaru, Kota Tinggi, 82200) has over 40 types of tropical fruits and an average tour of the land takes about 20 minutes. If you come in time for lunch, there’s an option to dine on site and be treated to fruits as part of the meal. Stay till the sun dips below the horizon and take a 40-minute river cruise to see fireflies. Those little critters just amp up the magic factor to make your trip a memorable one.

What to eat and drink in Johor Bahru

Roost Cafe
Photo: Ng Su Ann

Roost Café and Bistro

Entering Roost Café is like stepping into a two-storey time machine – think mid-century sofas, antique telephone sets, mini jukeboxes and ornate mirrors, relics of a bygone time. The food menu is based on co-owner Sea Wong’s family recipes and the drinks are served in small, colourful buckets. When you’re done dining and drinking, pop over to Miss Ireen Handmade and The Girl Next Door: the custom accessories boutique and designer/vintage store and hairdressing salon share an alfresco area with Roost.

9 Jln Dhoby (+60 1 6776 7489). Mon-Sat 12pm-4pm, 6pm-12am; Sun 6pm-12am.

The Ice Cream Project
Photo: Ng Su Ann

TIP The Ice-Cream Project

At this pint-sized Jalan Dhoby storefront – which, by the way, has a swing for a seat – the staff offer a twist on traditional ice cream with the help of some good ol’ liquid nitrogen. Before you roll your eyes – “But liquid nitrogen ice cream is nothing new!” – let the freshest, finest ice cream this side of Malaysia do the talking.

There are only four fuss-free flavours: the original milk, chocolate, brownie and cream, and butterscotch. But less is more, especially when it comes to tried-and-tested classics. Order a scoop of the original, top it off with a hot, homemade chocolate chip cookie, and wash it down with a glass of milk. It’s decadent yet truly wholesome.

31 Jln Dhoby (+60 7-300 7286; www.fb.com/tipdonttilt). Tue-Thu & Sun 3pm-10pm; Fri & Sat 3pm-12am.

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Flowers in the Window

Flowers in the Window

Littered with ferns and flowers, this cosy café smells like a crisp rainforest. The first floor can feel a little cramped, but head upstairs for more comfy seats to lounge in. Since Flowers in the Window is run by the same people behind Roost, the menu is similar.

The Hainanese chicken rice noodles ($26) is unlike anything you’ve likely tried in Hong Kong: the noodles are thick, chewy and sticky, perfect for the sweet and spicy sauce. The chicken is lightly battered and fried, but not too greasy. Drinks and desserts also pick up on the floral theme – try the lavender pineapple juice ($30) and lemon meringue curd ($30).

9 Jln Dhoby (+60 1 6776 7489). Mon & Wed-Sun 10am-10pm.

The Replacement – Lodge and Kitchen

The Replacement

Compared to the many other cafés ‘round these parts decked out in crazy decor, The Replacement stands out for its minimalist design. Natural light bounces off white walls and the marble bar, giving the otherwise spartan café a warm glow.

Out of all the cafés in JB, The Replacement undoubtedly has the best food. Order the soft shell crab bao with fries ($57) – the crispy texture of the soft shell crab is a nice contrast to the soft, homemade bao bun. For dessert, get a plate of piping hot churros ($32) with your choice of dip – there’s salted caramel, dark chocolate, hazelnut Nutella and the much-coveted salted egg yolk sauce.

33 Jln Dhoby (+60 1 0226 0311, www.fb.com/thereplacementlodgeandkitchen). Daily 9am-9pm.

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Sangkaya

Sangkaya

With an unassuming façade and name, Sangkaya doesn’t look particularly noteworthy. Even when our order of a small, hollowed-out husk of a young coconut with four scoops of ice cream arrives, we’re still not wowed. But after the first bite, we realise there’s a reason for Sangkaya’s confidence in serving only coconut ice cream. The ice cream is thick, creamy and tastes even better than those in Bangkok. Yes, even the ones from Chatuchak. As well as the original (from $6), it also comes flavoured with Thai milk tea, green tea or chocolate. Order a combo set and get any ice cream and coconut water for $26.

14 Jln Dhoby (+60 3 8938 9889; sangkaya.co). Mon-Thu & Sun 1pm-11pm; Fri & Sat 12pm-12am.

Bev C

Bev C

Don’t be confused when you first step inside Bev C – the café is on the second floor. The first floor is a retail space that houses fashion items. Climb the narrow staircase and order yourself some coffee and snacks to refuel. Or, if you feel daring enough, you can rest your head on the decorative bed laid out in the middle of the café. The house special espresso ice cube ($26) is a hot favourite. Shots of coffee are frozen into cubes and served with a side of milk – this way, you can enjoy a cold cup of joe without diluting it with ice.

54 Jln Tan Hiok Nee (+60 7 221 3530, www.bevcclothingbrand.com/brand). Tue-Sun 11am-8pm.

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Shakespeare Milkshakes

Shakespeare Milkshakes

The newest café on the stretch, Shakespeare Milkshakes is a gem. While the focus is on milkshakes, it doesn’t go completely over the top with saccharine concoctions that have ‘diabetes’ written all over them. 

The Kinder Bueno Shake ($30) comes in a tall glass, whose rim is coated with Nutella, topped with a cookie and half a Kinder Bueno. For people with a sweet tooth, waffles served with soft-serve ice cream and other toppings like chocolate banana ($28) are available, but we recommend getting a ‘croffle’ instead. These croissants are stuffed with treats like ham and cheese or beef pastrami before being pressed in a waffle maker.

9 Jln Trus (+60 16 421 8530; www.fb.com/pg/shakespeare.milkshakes). Mon-Tue & Thu-Sun 1pm-11pm.

Faculty of Caffeine

Faculty of Caffeine

A short distance away from the main café district is Faculty of Caffeine. Pipes line the walls, fluorescent bulbs hang from the ceiling and the exposed brick walls that have been painted over in white help add to the charm of this quaint joint. 

Faculty recently overhauled its menu, adding pasta dishes and savoury pancakes to the mix. The FOC Aglio Olio ($36) comes with your choice of beef bacon or smoked duck, button mushroom and 63°C sous vide egg, creating a luscious sauce once you toss your pasta. Skip the Korean fried chicken with pancakes ($38), though. The rubbery pancakes were tough to swallow, and the sauce that coated the chicken tastes predominantly of ketchup.

106 Jln Trus (+60 16-720 0068, www.fb.com/facultyofcaffeine). Daily 9am-6pm.

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Atlas Coffee Embassy
Photo: Ng Su Ann

Atlas Coffee Embassy

JH Yee knows his beans and brews. The winner of 2012's Malaysia Barista Championship, recipient of Time Out Kuala Lumpur’s 2013 food personality award, and all-round coffee champion has set up shop at Atlas Coffee Embassy. Serving its very own Atlas Signature Blend coffee – Brazil Santo Antonio, Costa Rica La Trinidad and Sumatra Tiga Raja Simalungun – the café is the reigning champ in a city of fierce competition. A sun-lit, white-washed space by Japan-based designer Jeff Ong, this is the place to go if you consider yourself a brew geek. The waffles are wonderful, too.

32 Jln Austin Heights 8/7, Taman Mount Austin (+60 7 358 7546; www.atlascoffeemy.com). Mon-Sat 8.30am-11pm; Sun 8.30am-7pm.

JWC
Photo: Ng Su Ann

Just Want Coffee, The Factory 30

Tucked away among warehouses and workshops in Mount Austin is this 4,000 sq ft, two-storey coffee mecca. The Factory 30 is the headquarters of the Just Want Coffee brand, which has more than one outlet in Johor Bahru.

Anyone seeking friendly service – and who’s fastidious about what’s in their cup – will be happy here. The menu, or the ‘manual’ rather, details different beans, brews and types of coffee roasting machines. It can get overwhelming but the baristas are happy to talk guests through it. Note that there’s always a crowd – but the bagels, baked fresh daily, are reason enough to wait for a table.

30 Jln Mutiara Emas 5/3, Taman Mount Austin (+60 7 350 7508; www.fb.com/thefactorythirty). Daily 12pm-12am.

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